The Conundrum of Sport-Specificity…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2014 by razorsedgeperformance
(This article was partly motivated by the story out of the NHL combine about the top-ranked prospect being unable to complete a pull-up in testing…)
 
This one is a doozie. There is no right answer, just multiple perspectives to consider. 
Sport-specificity creates an interesting dynamic for sport scientists and coaches because it can be ALL THAT MATTERS or very restrictive at the same time.
The first thing to mention is that as a sport scientist (or performance coach, or strength coach, or physiologist, biomechanist, athletic therapist, physiotherapist, chiropractor, or anyone that works in sport regarding athletic performance and injury prevention) all of your efforts are measured by the goal of the athlete in their sport. Improving speed, power, strength, flexibility, etc. are all great but at the end of the day people want to be more successful tomorrow than they were today. The attraction to sport specificity is around being as efficient as possible, to affect those things that can translate directly to sport. It is the reason you see so many training tools on the market that simulate many sporting activities. If you can create overload on the exact same move you do in sport, then you should improve and succeed. Or so the belief goes.
 
This can lead down a very closed-minded path though. Some people will believe that you can’t predict or correlate performance with metrics in the gym, because the sport is more complicated that that. Or other people will say that attempting large-scale changes in the weight room via weightlifting for example are a waste of time because the given athlete doesn’t compete in weightlifting, therefore there is no need to develop the skill.
 
The truth is sport is so dynamic and unpredictable that we constantly need new ways of inching closer to our goal when we are limited in what we can measure or impact. Let’s look at the weightlifting example. There is only one sport that uses these lifts officially and we will leave that out of the discussion, because it is the definition of sport specificity. Then there are secondary sports i’ll call them, where a sport skill is directly reflected in the performance of weightlifting exercises. For example, athletes who perform jumping in their sport would likely benefit directly from the triple extension that occurs. What is sometimes lost though, is the specificity of neural recruitment. The nervous system can behave similarly anytime you want to do something explosively, or at high velocities. Think about changing the speed that your watch keeps time. If you tried to do your daily activities in the same amount of time as usual, but your clock moved twice as fast, you would be running all over the place trying to be super-productive. Your ‘normal’ pace would now likely be twice as fast. On the other hand, if you slowed the clock down to take twice as long, your behaviour would likely slow down as well. (This has never been proven, but the concept just came to me, and seemed to validate my point…so take it with an open-mind!) When performing activities at high velocity then, like weightlifting, we serve to increase the rate that we do most of our work at. So any sport that involves movements of high velocity then could see potential benefit of weightlifting exercises. Yet how often do you hear coaches say, “This sport is different, we don’t need that stuff”, or some version of that.
 
When it comes to predicting performance improvements then, sometimes we need to think outside the box in order to work through a possible checklist. If your sport involves an opponent and weather conditions, you can never be truly sure of performance outcomes. However, we can’t let that hold us back from finding ways to measure progress toward mastery. Going back to our weightlifting example, if after a given mesocycle we can say that athlete X has higher power and rate of force development, then we can probably assume an improvement in the sport. If we have an energetic test (or conditioning test, or whatever you want to call it), and we determine an athlete to be more fit, then that will likely confer a competitive advantage. What about mindset and sport psychology principles. Often in sports, coaches and commentators will call them the intangibles, or people will say “he/she has that something you can’t teach”. Over time, research has looked at talent identification and development, and you know what, there are many times where these things are measurable. So how many people are doing questionnaires and profiles to measure these so-called things that can’t be measured? (Maybe another story for another day!)
 
One thing that has always resonated with me form my time at Edith Cowan University with Dr. Haff and Dr. Nimphius, is the concept of building capacities. Every time you improve on one of these outcomes, you expand an athlete’s physical capacity for competition, which is rarely ever a bad thing! Sometimes just because you can’t see how a specific metric or test fits into actual gameplay, doesn’t mean it’s improvement won’t somehow impact performance. When we open our mind to the possibilities that many roads lead to Rome, we can usually find that improving physical and mental capacities give athletes a better chance when going for gold!

The Smallest Worthwhile Change

Posted in Health, Nutrition, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by razorsedgeperformance
There is a concept in high performance of the smallest worthwhile change. It is a concept borne out in statistics about what type of intervention is necessary to change your placing in competition. For example, the 100m dash in the Olympics. The SWC is a change necessary to affect your placing in the 100m final. It uses the typical variability in competition within the sport to quantify whether a change in a performance metric is meaningful. I have the good fortune of working in high performance sport and I can say that it is often fascinating to find different ways to create this SWC. It can come from recovery, training, equipment modifications, technique changes, the list goes on and on.
You see, for an athlete who is going to the Olympic games, maybe even for the second or third time, you are turning  over every leaf. At this point in there career, they have likely tried and mastered many things to bring them to the top of their sport, and it gets harder and harder to find more ways to improve performance. If you want to win gold though, sometimes it’s necessary.
The flip side of the coin though, is when this concept arises in developing athletes. You see it all the time. Think about a friend who bought new shoes, or cleats, thinking it will change their performance. The new pre-workout supplement, compression gear, or even workout track. We see it all the time, not even thinking about it, but people love to seek out the SWC at every age.
The only problem is that while it is really sexy to find this secret sauce, for most athletes the focus should be on the Largest Worthwhile Change. You see many of these “elites” that I just spoke of have gone through many yearly training plans, maybe even a quadrennial or two…
The LWC can be thought of as a consistent approach to the basics. It is surprising how many athletes don’t put in a full-year of focused training before going to college. I am referring to an approach to training with full mental engagement and consistent adherence for a yearly plan. Too often athletes think that one workout, or maybe a good 2-3 weeks is enough to create an adaptation. The truth is, most athletes haven’t learned to push themselves hard enough to make that a reality. With our experienced Olympian from the last paragraph, maybe 3 weeks is enough to get a SWC in the middle of a competition period, since they should have technical mastery of the training methods, and the ability to focus all their effort to it’s execution.
The developing athlete though, whether they want to or not, doesn’t have the experience to really push themselves as hard as they need to for that to happen. So true adaptations may take months to achieve. This is nothing to get discouraged about, it is the standard process that everyone must go through.
Let’s take complex training for example. Typically, it is done by pairing an exercise of high load (lets say squat, 1-3RM) with an exercise of high speed (lets say countermovement jump) to elicit a performance improvement. Without going into all of the reasons, the belief is that the exposure to high load will make performance of the high speed activity better. There is research to support this. However, the research also shows that until you have reached a certain training age, and met certain strength criteria, this second exercise may in fact have a reduced performance, the opposite effect. It’s simple really, you are fatigued after a hard set of squats and don’t have the reserves to create the high output jumps…
The complex just serves as an example of a training method, that while effective, doesn’t need to be used with every athlete you train. Taking time to be patient with the basics and develop mastery can go a long way in improving your performance significantly now, and setting you up for more SWCs in the future.
The LWC that I am referring to can appear in a variety of ways including: consistent training throughout the year (even DURING competition periods), focused effort on movement quality, recovery/regeneration methods, sound and consistent nutritional intake, a growth mindset, and deliberate focus and attention to detail.
The most recent example I can think of comes from the platforms at a local weightlifting club. Every week I see athletes come in with the best shoes, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and workout supplements. Then they proceed to underwhelm in their performance. Now I am not saying any of these items are bad, or that every athlete has to be amazing, we all have to start somewhere. I am just saying, before rushing out to buy all the toys (for SWCs) and accessories, spend time working your craft! Most of these lifters aren’t being held back because of the knee sleeves, wrist wraps, or shoes!
Focus on the Largest Worthwhile Changes before you waste money on the smaller details. You will thank me in the end.

 

LTAD and Going Through Puberty

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2014 by razorsedgeperformance

I see a lot of parents and coaches, who concerned about the safety of ‘strength training’ for their children, choose to wait until after puberty before starting athletic development. Coaches may call this the end of Training to Train and the start of Training to Compete.

While I understand where everyone is coming from, there is a major piece to the puzzle missing. Once a child goes through puberty, coordination usually falls behind, because their limb lengths are now much bigger, and they didn’t know how to control the smaller ones!

Gaining coordination as a young child, whether resisted with external loading or not, is extremely important to avoid this awkward stage that sometimes comes about with puberty. Resistance training is not unsafe for children (assuming you are supervised by a qualified individual…) and athletic development coaches will want to see effective use of body weight first none the less.

If you want to be a well coordinated athlete who can stay injury proof through your teens, learning how to move and control your body before puberty is much more efficient than waiting!

If you want to talk performance, you are able to get strong and powerful SOONER!

Kids are allowed to run and jump all they want in sport without restrictions, so why are we afraid to allow them to learn how to control their bodies under supervision? Something is missing here…

Why Olympic Weightlifting Is Worth It!

Posted in Performance with tags , , , on October 27, 2013 by razorsedgeperformance

This is a debate I’ve seen going for a while now between strength coaches and personal trainers. Some believe that Olympic Weightlifting (Clean and Jerk and Snatch) is a fantastic tool for developing explosive power in athletes and others believe they’re unnecessary or too complicated to teach to any athletes who are not competing in Olympic lifting. If you’ve read this blog at all then you’ll know that my brother and I are huge fans of Olympic lifting. Not only do I think they have a huge upside and benefit for athletes but I think it would be great to see more individuals get involved in the sport itself, whether it be kids or adults.

First off, I’m only describing the benefits to using Olympic lifts with athletes as long as you’re with them for a decent amount of time and if you have the facility for it. You’d be surprised how well they can learn within only a few sessions so it’s not like you need to be with these athletes for years. I’m also not saying that you definitely HAVE to do Olympic lifting, just that you’d be smart to include them in your programming with most athletes – assuming you’re qualified to coach/teach them.

Amazing Snatch Photo Reel

One of the biggest (and worst) excuses as to why people don’t use the Olympic lifts is that they don’t have the positioning or mobility for it. I can’t stand that one. This should be a gift as a strength coach; it should be an opportunity to identify a weakness and correct it. If you’ve identified poor shoulder range of motion, the inability to hold the bar in the rack position, or God forbid, the inability to get to the bottom of a deep squat position then these athletes would benefit from addressing these things immediately. These things aren’t just benefits for Olympic lifters, these things are weaknesses if you knowingly allow them to plague your athletes. Using the Olympic lifts not only builds explosive power, but also reinforce good mobility and helps build shoulder stability. It’s also a great tool for building up the nervous system and developing coordination, in Olympic lifting you need to turn on that explosive burst at just the right time, not unlike many other sports.

Another common reason to avoid using Olympic lifts is that you don’t “Need” to do them to develop power in athletes. This is true, I can’t argue against that. One could include lots of Plyometrics in their programming and still develop power. The question is more about efficiency, why would you knowingly avoid an exercise when you know that it is one of the BEST ways to develop power. It’s also true that you don’t NEED to squat to develop leg strength, but you won’t see me take them out of my programs anytime soon. If you’ve ever lifted weights then you’ll know how much more work you do just by trying to lift the weights a little faster. Now think of the clean and jerk – I’m going to over simplify it here – you rip the weight off the floor and throw it as high as you can so you can catch it and then accelerate it over your head. How would that NOT develop explosiveness? Here’s a quotation from famous Olympic lifting coach Bob Takano, “Any Athlete or Coach interested in developing optimal power must look to the methods of the weightlifters for the most effective strategies in the training of explosive athleticism” (Takano, Bob, coaching optimal technique in the snatch and clean and jerk Part 1). In fact, many elite athletes do focus on the Olympic lifts for their power development. One of the most pure expressions of power in sport is bobsleigh, 4 (or 2) athletes push a sled as hard and as fast as they can for an extremely short distance. In their training, they incorporate the Olympic lifts quite a bit, just like skiers and sprinters to name a few more (eg., Cody Sorensen below).

You see, just because something is difficult to learn, doesn’t mean it’s not worth teaching. The whole point of teaching athletes the techniques and skills early is so they can progress and use large weights with these lifts. This is where the real benefit comes, moving high weights at high speeds. Any athlete can power clean or power snatch with tens on each side, but true power development comes with large weights – relative to your body mass. If you’ve done physics in high school then you’ll recognize the equation: F=MA (“Force equals Mass times Acceleration”). Let’s do a simple calculation, if you give the mass and acceleration an arbitrary number of 1, F=1×1=1 . If we double the mass and the speed, F=2×2=4, we can see that the force is 4 times higher. Thus, if we can have our athletes comfortable enough with the olympic lifts to really start to progress to heavier weights, we can have our athletes generating incredible forces during training which will then increase their output in competitions.

Let’s be smart coaches and start to utilize the athletic potential with our athletes. If we only do slow strength movements, our strength will increase but it wont necessarily give us more power output, utilizing the olympic lifts will increase power production and teach athletes to generate high forces.

Graham Pitfield 132kg Clean

Candace Crawford 77kg Clean

(Graham and Candace ARE NOT Razor’s Edge Performance supported athletes, but their performances are none the less impressive. They both train at FITS.)

Now let’s get on a platform and go hit some new PRs!

The Last 0.01

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by razorsedgeperformance

This post was originally written by Cory Kennedy for http://www.fitstoronto.com

 

I don’t know if i’m crazy, or if most athletic development coaches should think like me, but I always look to track and field for answers. I know that other sports have certain components that track doesn’t take into account, but track is all about developing pure athleticism so I feel there is a lot to be learned from this group of coaches and athletes. So I am going to use a track metaphor to talk about grit, commitment, and dedication. Olympic medals are sometimes decided by hundredths of a second, or centimetres in jumps and throws. The average athlete might not even be within a few tenths of a second if they ran the 100m final multiple times (not in a row of course…haha). This makes these hundredths of a second crucial for a sprinter.

 

In one of my favourite movies, Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino has a riveting speech about football being a game of inches. This is the exact same metaphor. Time is distance, distance is time, when talking about sprinting or sport in general.

When you really sit down and think about the value of these inches, or hundredths of a second, you realize that Al Pacino was right, and they really are everywhere. Right now you are just thinking of each stride, or each change-of-direction, but it’s about more than that. It’s the habits you keep. The decisions you make on a daily basis that make up those inches. My favourite comparison for this concept is with supplementation and muscle protein synthesis. Beginners will have these grand illusions that supplements will dramatically change you, that you can feel the difference right after taking them (stimulants can do this but…). Yet the veteran athletes or lifters out there understand it’s the opposite, that the effect is subtle. They are still the ones though that won’t be caught without a post-workout shake. Why is that? If the effect is so small, why are they so fastidious about the habit? The answer is in that hundredth of a second. If you knew that your post=workout nutrition contributed a 0.01% to your performance, that may seem small, but over your 200+ training sessions a year, thats an extra 2%. If you can find another 2% from not drinking alcohol, or maintaining tissue health, keeping regular communication with a sport medicine professional, following your training plan, eating properly, we just found 10% or more. This is the power of habit, the power of numbers, and the power of the last hundredth.

 

If you knew that your next sporting event would be decided by 0.01 seconds how would it affect your behaviours over the next week?

Do you know HOW-TO?

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , , , on June 5, 2013 by razorsedgeperformance

How to Guide

 

The problem we sometimes run into as strength coaches is that we’ll program in certain exercises but we don’t always get to see them carried out by our athletes. Not until I can bend space and time at least, but that’s another story. In an ideal world, we would get to see every athlete, every day. Unfortunately, we’re left programming for guys with different schedules or, out of: city, province, country. At least you know that they’ll be giving our program their full effort, however they may have habits we dislike or misconceptions about a given lift.

The benefit nowadays, is that you can upload videos of any lifts to be seen worldwide. What we’re trying to do is create a bit of a library so that our athletes can hop on youtube and pick up some technical cues and get a good idea for the do’s and don’ts of a given lift. If there’s any lift that you need help with, let us know in the comments. In the meantime, here are a few videos to get you started!

 

 

The People Demand Answers!!! March 2013

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 8, 2013 by razorsedgeperformance

Hey Guys,

Sorry for the delay but here’s some recent questions answered!! As usual, feel free to email info@razorsedgeperformance.ca or leave a comment on our facebook page if you have a question that needs to be answered!!

stupid-question

Paleo…Is it necessary for results?  

With Crossfit taking over the world, and paleo being the nutritional approach to Crossfit, it is really easy to feel the need to go paleo.

There is a famous saying in the health/fitness world…what is the best program? The one you follow. Well nutrition is not a lot different…the key to getting success from all your hard work comes from an equally strong focus on your nutrition. As long as you can stick to strong principles, you will do well. For example, I have a friend who is more shredded than most human beings, he goes by timbahwolf on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. If you follow any of his accounts, you’ll see that he eats whatever he wants…junk food, fast food, etc. It would seem unlikely that he is so shredded. The key is though, that he has been tracking his nutritional intake for the last decade or so. He makes random food choices, but always sticks to pre-determined macronutrient intakes. Follow principles, whether its good ingredients, no processed food, specific macronutrient ratios, or whatever you wish, but that is the key to success… Now to clarify, if you do eat of lot of the quesitonable foods, it’s extremely important not to overdo it, that’s why you need to focus on your food diary.

Do Supplements Really Matter?

The truth is the mind is much more powerful than any supplement. I have seen people get hyooge with a full-cupboard of supplements, and I’ve also seen people get jacked on water (and food of course). If you push yourself and truly believe that you are capable of great things, your body will continue to build. Having said that, supplements are heavily researched and a number of them are VERY likely to have a positive effect. Whether it is by increasing muscle protein synthesis, decreasing muscle breakdown or improving work capacity, there are a number of supplements that improve physiological adaptations. The big thing is that they are small percentages. Will you feel the difference tomorrow? No. Add up all those little tiny gains over a long consistent journey of good health/training and you end up with big results! Point is, when you are working with a budget, start with the essentials (we have addressed those here) and when you find some products you like, or great deals, make supplementation a critical part of your process.

What is the Best Program??

Play sports, and master the basics. Every athlete has a different set of experiences that forms how they perform today. With that in mind, every athlete has specific needs to ENSURE that they are developing optimally, and taking care of the important details that prevent injury. If we were to put a mask over that (which I don’t suggest…) then the most appropriate program for any athlete is to build the basics in the weight room and practice your sport. There are so many skills involved with sport that you can always be working on your game. The weight room is intended to build the capacities of force and power (strength) to support your sport. With the appropriate time and energy, a coach can build a very comprehensive program to help you be the best athlete you can be, but on a time/energy/cost budget, it’s important to just MASTER the basics first. Squat, bench, clean and snatch!

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